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olivelady

Changes in an Old Guard Italian Restaurant/Need Recommendations for Italian Restaurants in DC

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Recently, I had a very bad experience with a professional group dinner at Ristorante La Perla of Washington. Despite repeated attempts to address the issues during dinner, there was poor to simply inadequate service. We had pre-set menus. In theory, everything should have been seamless. However, it was miserable! Some people received salads; some people didn't. A bread basket was placed on only one side of a very large table when there should have been one bread basket on each side of a round table. Servers were surly at best and seemed as though our party was an after thought despite the fact that our dinner had been planned months in advance. Oh, and the worst of all, a guest at one of our tables was a mindful eater. Rather than ask if the guest was finished with their plate, the server picked up the guest's plate - still half full of food - and promptly placed another plate on top mashing the food down. This act prevented the guest from asking for a 'doggie bag'. 

The first time my organization had a group dinner at Ristorante La Perla of Washington, all aspects of the dinner from service to food were outstanding. Therefore, we made plans to return a few months later.  Needless to say, we will not be booking a group dinner at Ristorante La Perla again and will definitely advise others not to think of dining there.

Does anyone know if there is a problem between the FOH and the Chef/Owner? It seems as though there are signs of a major calamity in progress.  The decline in service, in less than 6 months time, is stunning. There are many other options, but we like to develop a rapport with restaurants and become regular customers. The location of La Perla is very convenient, but we will travel to experience good service and food. Washington has plenty of Italian restaurants to choose from and we are giving up on this old guard restaurant.  Does anyone have recommendations for Italian restaurants in DC where group dining is a wonderful experience?  Thanks for all recommendations.

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8 minutes ago, olivelady said:

Recently, I had a very bad experience with a professional group dinner at Ristorante La Perla of Washington. Despite repeated attempts to address the issues during dinner, there was poor to simply inadequate service. We had pre-set menus. In theory, everything should have been seamless. However, it was miserable! Some people received salads; some people didn't. A bread basket was placed on only one side of a very large table when there should have been one bread basket on each side of a round table. Servers were surly at best and seemed as though our party was an after thought despite the fact that our dinner had been planned months in advance. Oh, and the worst of all, a guest at one of our tables was a mindful eater. Rather than ask if the guest was finished with their plate, the server picked up the guest's plate - still half full of food - and promptly placed another plate on top mashing the food down. This act prevented the guest from asking for a 'doggie bag'. 

The first time my organization had a group dinner at Ristorante La Perla of Washington, all aspects of the dinner from service to food were outstanding. Therefore, we made plans to return a few months later.  Needless to say, we will not be booking a group dinner at Ristorante La Perla again and will definitely advise others not to think of dining there.

Does anyone know if there is a problem between the FOH and the Chef/Owner? It seems as though there are signs of a major calamity in progress.  The decline in service, in less than 6 months time, is stunning. There are many other options, but we like to develop a rapport with restaurants and become regular customers. The location of La Perla is very convenient, but we will travel to experience good service and food. Washington has plenty of Italian restaurants to choose from and we are giving up on this old guard restaurant.  Does anyone have recommendations for Italian restaurants in DC where group dining is a wonderful experience?  Thanks for all recommendations.

Unless we have some more specifics, this will be a very difficult question to answer, because La Perla doesn't have the best reputation here.

1) How much are you willing to spend per person?

2) By "old-guard," do you mean a quiet restaurant, with polite, genteel service?

3) How much noise and price can you tolerate?

4) Where are you wiling to travel?

5) Let's take both Cafe Milano and Fiola y Mare as two very different examples in fairly close proximity to La Perla - what do you see about them that you like and dislike? While we're at it, why don't we throw in Paolo's.

We can probably take it from there. In terms of cuisine, there are probably 25-50 better Italian restaurants in DC than La Perla, but cuisine may not be all you're after.

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Thank you for your reply.  We had some flexibility with the cost per person with a range of $75 to $100 per person before beverages, tax and gratuity. The dinner required a location in or near the West End.

By old-guard, I meant a quiet restaurant where guests could speak to each other across the table comfortably and yes, have polite, genteel service. 

Some noise would have been fine. However, the idea is to avoid the sound level similar to a bar before a sports game. Fiola y Mare would have been wonderful, but was not available. Cafe Milano would have been too noisy. Paolo's would have been too far for a group to walk, especially in the event of inclement weather.

What are your thoughts about I Ricchi for a group dinner?

 

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1 hour ago, olivelady said:

What are your thoughts about I Ricchi for a group dinner?

I'm always confident and eager to answer people's questions such as this; I honestly don't know the answer to this. 

Anyone?

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Notti Bianchi might be an alternative.  Both it and I Ricci have seen far better days years ago but they currently could offer similar dining quality to La Perla and they are in the area.

Certainly check beforehand for appropriate space

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On 2/19/2017 at 11:19 PM, DonRocks said:

I'm always confident and eager to answer people's questions such as this; I honestly don't know the answer to this. 

Anyone?

Christine Ricci did a nice job for my wine group last year. Everyone enjoyed themselves. Keep an eye on extras that are not negotiated in advance i.e. sparkling water which was poured for everyone without making clear we would be charged. I had it taken off the bill after "discussion"

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2 hours ago, mr food said:

Christine Ricci did a nice job for my wine group last year. Everyone enjoyed themselves. Keep an eye on extras that are not negotiated in advance i.e. sparkling water which was poured for everyone without making clear we would be charged. I had it taken off the bill after "discussion"

Nice to know the dinner went well albeit for the issue with the "extra".   I'm not the poster child for old guard Italian restaurants but I could be in that group probably having dined at most or all of them for a period of about a decade stretching across "old guard" time in the mid 80's to mid 90's.  I Ricci was at one time my favorite but it slipped  around the divorce of Christine and Francesco in the 90's with Francesco opening a restaurant in Bethesda.

Besides wonderful meals I and others often had a nice and better than nice time there.  That experience is a nice note with regard to the planned group meeting.

  

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You say you're willing to travel, but you don't say how far. In DC proper, you could do a lot worse than Tosca, downtown, or Osteria Morini in near Southwest. I haven't eaten at Tosca in a number of years, so I can't really vouch for the food, but the service was always impeccable, and I doubt that's changed. Osteria Morini is far more casual, but the food is excellent and the staff in the dining room are cheerful and pleasant. Farther afield, I can't say enough good things about Villa Mozart in Fairfax City. Both food and service are  invariably beyond reproach, and they even have a semi-private room that would be great for a group dinner

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On 2/19/2017 at 11:19 PM, DonRocks said:

I'm always confident and eager to answer people's questions such as this; I honestly don't know the answer to this. 

Anyone?

Times like these I wish Etrusco was still open with George Vetsch behind the stove. Both i Ricci and La Perla are in decline - the former having had a good run, the latter not so much. More casual than you are thinking, but what about Al Tiramisu? Service is more laid back than "correct", but the food will be better. Assuming you don't need to be around the West End, I'd say Tosca. Still rock solid.

I haven't been to Villa Mozart in years, but one perspective - were I to attend a professional group meeting in DC I would be FURIOUS if we had to drive to Fairfax City (or anywhere outside the city for that matter) for dinner.

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Not to sound like a shill--and it's not "Old Guard"--but Acqua Al 2 has good food and a variety of private dining options.  Nowhere near the West End, though.  I don't know what Morini's private dining situation is, but I've found that to be a loud restaurant.  

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I had a really great experience at Siroc recently. It's a small space, but able to accommodate groups: there were two large groups while my party of 5 dined. The food was excellent and reasonably priced.

~ louise

  

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My experiences of both Al Tiramisu and Tosca are pretty old, but based on what memories I have of them, I'd say Tosca is at least twice as good as Al Tiramisu. No, I retract that. Tosca is infinitely better.

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11 hours ago, olivelady said:

All, 

Thank you for the recommendations and feedback.  I will look into both Al Tiramisu and Tosca.

Al Tiramisu is more old-guard than Tosca (but not as good), however, when they recite the "specials" (special for "whom," I wonder), make sure you ask the prices - they are almost always more expensive than the menu items - sometimes 50% more - and they have a history of not informing diners of the prices until the bill arrives with a nasty surprise on it. I've found the most efficient way to solve this problem is to ask for "the specials and the prices, please," or, if the server says, "And our specials this evening are ..." politely interject and ask him to say the prices of each item he describes. He'll probably say, "Of course, madam," like he was going to anyway - better safe than sorry. I've always enjoyed the old-fashioned atmosphere and service at Al Tiramisu, but you *must* be aware of their little "special protocol" to walk out happy.

It's also less formal than Tosca, and the pasta isn't as spectacular (Tosca's pastas are similar to the way Babbo's used to be (and still may be), and you can get half-portions, therefore assembling a pasta tasting of 4-6 half-portions for the price of 2-3 full-portions (check to make sure they still offer this) - Tosca's pastas and desserts are also their two strongest points, as their meat and fish dishes can get very pricey, but they're competently made if not always terrific - their pastas, however, *are* terrific).

The service at both restaurants is excellent, and both restaurants are in Italic.

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On 5/1/2017 at 9:08 PM, The Hersch said:

Obelisk is a wreck of its former self. What happened?

What happened is that when it opened, the three-person kitchen consisted of Peter Pastan, Frank Ruta, and Emily Kaiser. 

I was assured by someone in the industry that "Obelisk was back" about 7-8 years ago; it wasn't back.

Obelisk was the most interesting and possibly the best restaurant in the DC area in the 1980s (Don't forget we also had Jean-Pierre Goyenvalle at Le Lion d'Or, and that Gerard Pangaud was at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City not long afterwards). Obelisk would have held its own in New York or San Francisco as well - I cannot over-emphasize just how great and revolutionary this restaurant was, and the wine list was priced at double-wholesale: See if you can find anywhere in the area that does that now.

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On 5/7/2017 at 9:19 AM, DonRocks said:

What happened is that when it opened, the three-person kitchen consisted of Peter Pastan, Frank Ruta, and Emily Kaiser. 

I was assured by someone in the industry that "Obelisk was back" about 7-8 years ago; it wasn't back.

Obelisk was the most interesting and possibly the best restaurant in the DC area in the 1980s (Don't forget we also had Jean-Pierre Goyenvalle at Le Lion d'Or, and that Gerard Pangaud was at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City not long afterwards). Obelisk would have held its own in New York or San Francisco as well - I cannot over-emphasize just how great and revolutionary this restaurant was, and the wine list was priced at double-wholesale: See if you can find anywhere in the area that does that now.

You don't have to sell me on how great Obelisk was. There was a period of a couple of years when I would gladly have named it the best restaurant in the world. We have nothing like that now.

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On 5/7/2017 at 9:19 AM, DonRocks said:

What happened is that when it opened, the three-person kitchen consisted of Peter Pastan, Frank Ruta, and Emily Kaiser. 

I was assured by someone in the industry that "Obelisk was back" about 7-8 years ago; it wasn't back.

Obelisk was the most interesting and possibly the best restaurant in the DC area in the 1980s (Don't forget we also had Jean-Pierre Goyenvalle at Le Lion d'Or, and that Gerard Pangaud was at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City not long afterwards). Obelisk would have held its own in New York or San Francisco as well - I cannot over-emphasize just how great and revolutionary this restaurant was, and the wine list was priced at double-wholesale: See if you can find anywhere in the area that does that now.

I'll agree with this except I thought Le Lion d'Or was overrated (but that may be because they treated young diners very poorly).  I would have put Yannick Cam at Le Pavillon in this list, at least for part of the '80s.

(Sorry for the thread drift.  To the original point, I agree that Obelisk was great then but is not back, not by a long shot.) 

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Quick additional point about La Perla.  My firm represented Chef Testa back in the 80s when he left Filomena and started Leonardo da Vinci.  As a result, I ate at Leonardo numerous times and based on that, although it's been close to 30 years, I have no desire to go to La Perla, particularly for a group dinner.

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2 hours ago, jpbloom said:

I'll agree with this except I thought Le Lion d'Or was overrated (but that may be because they treated young diners very poorly).  I would have put Yannick Cam at Le Pavillon in this list, at least for part of the '80s.

(Sorry for the thread drift.  To the original point, I agree that Obelisk was great then but is not back, not by a long shot.) 

I remember the first time I went to Inn at Little Washington (in the late 1980s) - I thought I had reached Restaurant Nirvana. It was the best meal I'd ever eaten at the time, and I'd been to Le Lion d'Or several times at that point. I'm not sure Le Lion d'Or was "overrated" so much as "overpriced," but the wine list was *outstanding* (just as it was at Inn at Little Washington, who, btw, bought Le Pavillon's entire wine cellar).

I bought wines at Inn at Little Washington to take home - that's how good their list was. I got a bottle of aged Premier Cru (Les Meurgers) by Henri Jayer for about $75 (this is back in the early 1990s, before the price explosion) - boy do I wish I still had it.

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In the "I should have known better" category; I went to a group dinner at I ricci and regret going. I have a dairy allergy, told the server who was pushing a group meal. he told me it's be okay. Much to my surprise, everything had cheese all over it. I "ate around" the cheese but by the time the meal wrapped up, I could not swallow since I was having an allergic reaction to the meal. SO not only did I pay about $100 for food that wasn't very good, but I ended up having to leave early b/c I could not swallow. 

I realize that many, many people fake food allergies and that's a disservice to me but so is a server who pushes cheese on someone with a dairy allergy!

 

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